Trail running in the Dordogne

The Dordogne is renowned for its beautiful countryside, chateaux and gastronomic delights - and trail running is the best way to discover all the hidden gems.

Ancient woodland trails, chemins leading between quaint stone hamlets, many rivers, deep valleys, moulins, truffle orchards, prehistoric caves - the Dordogne region of South West France is a trail running paradise and renowned for its beautiful countryside, chateaux and gastronomic delights.

You will rarely see another runner out exploring, so vast is the network of trails on offer. Yet it is a popular location in France for both trail and ultra runners, with many living and training here.

I have explored many hundreds of kilometres of these trails, and I always find something new and amazing to find.

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Trail running in the Dordogne is suitable for all levels of runners as this is not a mountainous region of France. However, there are plenty of deep valleys and stunning vistas which make it a very appealing place to run and explore.

Most of the trails are ancient chemins, passing between hamlets, villages and market towns. Away from the roads, they are often direct routes which cross farmland, fields, ancient woodland and rivers.

Every day you can find yourself running through such varying countryside with a vast diversity of scenery. One minute you'll be popping out of woodland and then the next running through quaint little hamlets where you'll see wonderful stone properties or tiny historic villages.

Small market towns still bustle with weekly local markets selling fresh produce. Chateaux, with their imposing views, seem to appear from nowhere, and secret caves are hidden away amongst the limestone plateaux, waiting to be discovered.

Tiny tracks weave through woodland where you can, if you know where to look, find stone bories tucked away, or water sources that have been trickling for centuries. It is the magic gems like these that make the Dordogne a fascinating place to spend time exploring and here are some of the highlights:

Brantome: The 'Venice of the Perigord' is a hugely popular must-visit village on the river Dronne. You'll run past hidden caves that have been quarried for their stone, tiny hamlets and old water sources. The town itself has an historic abbey and one of the most photographed moulins in France, with its working water wheel.

Brantome Abbey
The historic abbey in Brantome

Excideuil: This market town has a lot to offer its visitors, including enchanted rocks, ancient water sources, caves tucked away and only known by locals, plus an imposing chateau [see main image above] overlooking the countryside. Head up through the woods to an amazing vista with views towards the famous Lascaux caves.

Lavoir sign in St JeanSt Jean de Cole: Voted one of the prettiest villages in France. Crossing the cobbled stone bridge, admire the chateau and old water mill, before popping your head into the impressive historic church to see its unusual roof. And then it's off exploring the local trails - a diverse selection of woodland, where cepes and mushrooms grow. It is also home to the wild sanglier and deer, with the deer often spotted from the trails, while the boar is more timid.

Jumihac Le Grand: Run up along a trail to suddenly see this impressive chateau right in front of you with commanding views down to the river Isle, where even today they still pan for gold.

These are all suitable for novice and experienced trail runners alike. And if you're looking for steep, hilly runs, then that's easy to accomodate too.

Caves near Brantome
You'll run past caves in Brantome and elsewhere

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Hidden gems

You get to run little-used tracks and trails and discover sights that 99% of tourists never get to see!

2. Sorges

As well as the historic places mentioned above, make time to visit Sorges which is famous for its black truffles that are worth more in price than gold!

3. Gastonomic delights

Every runner knows how important good food is for fuelling your running and the Dordogne is renowned for its cuisine. Eating home cooked, healthy regional seasonal food is the norm.

4. Saint Jacques de Compostelle route

This famous pilgrim route passes straight through the Dordogne.

5. Step back in time

Poking your head into a prehistoric cave, running where bears used to roam, sitting beside an ancient lavoir, or trotting through truffle orchards, these are all experiences to be savoured in this beautiful region of France.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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Trail running is available all year round, but the best months are Spring, Summer and Autumn. (March through to November)

Spring running is a great time with all the flora and fauna and wildlife to be seen. Summer, with its hotter temperatures, means earlier starts to avoid running in the heat of the afternoon. It also gives you time to relax by the pool afterwards!

Autumn is one of my favourite times with the ever-changing colours of the woodland and yet still plenty of warmth in the days.

Of course I can accommodate the tougher trail runners who wish to run during December, January and February. The trails are always there and I am out there running them, even in the winter.

WHAT TO BRING

During the Summer: Trail or road running shoes, a Camelbak or similar water bladder backpack, sunscreen, cap, sunglasses, breathable tops, shorts.

In Winter: Trail running shoes, Camelbak or similar, lightweight jacket (wind/waterproof/breathable), long running trousers, buff, gloves, breathable top.

 

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